Historically most schools haven’t recognized mental health as a legitimate reason to miss classes. But this position is slowly changing as more and more children are struggling with psychological issues that are impacting their ability to show up to school as their best selves in the same way as physical illness would.
One by one states are allowing students to take time for themselves on days when the weight of the world becomes a little too much to carry.
Below, we’ve outlined the current legislative stance on mental health days in all fifty states. This review excludes the discussion of private schools, which may have policies independent of state law. But for the most part, it should give you a sense of the progress we’ve made and how far we have to go in the fight to improve the mental health of America’s children.
Note: This information is current as of August 2022.
States Where Mental Health Days Are Allowed
Washington: On June 9, 2022 the state of Washington and the State Superintendent approved a new law that will allow students to use mental or behavioral health reasons as a valid excuse for an absence.
California: On October 8th, 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bills 14 and 224 into law. New law SB 14 allows students to miss school due to mental or behavioral health concerns, and these absences will be treated the same as a missed school day. SB 224 requires schools to include mental health content in their health education curriculum and to implement new instruction on the subject on or before January 1, 2024.
Illinois: As of January 1, 2022 schools must now allow students to take up to five mental health days per year. These will be considered excused absences, and are intended to encourage children to get help during this time if they need it. The law states kids don’t need a doctor’s note to take these mental health days, however students and parents will need to explicitly state that they’re using this type of absence when they call into their school office.
Maine: In February 2020 governor Janet Mills signed a bill that would allow students to take days off school for mental and behavioral health reasons.
Virginia: On December 31, 2019, the general assembly of Virginia passed a bill allowing students to take mental health days, meaning students can claim mental health as a valid excuse for absence.
Colorado: In 2020, the state of Colorado passed a bill allowing students to take mental health days, requiring school district attendance requirements to include a policy for excused absences for behavioral health concerns.
Oregon: In June 2019 the state of Oregon passed a law allowing students to take up to five days off within a three-month period. This includes mental health days and regular sick days.
Connecticut: A bill was passed by the state of Connecticut outlining that from July 1 2021 all students can take two mental health wellness days per year as long as they are not consecutive.
Arizona: As of February 2021, students are allowed to take mental health days as they would a sick day, though the exact policy can differ by school district.
Nevada: As of July 1, 2021, Senate Bill 249 allows Nevada students aged 7-18 are to miss a day of school for mental health reasons, provided they have a note from mental or behavioral health professional.
Utah: As of May 2021, a new addition to law HB81 took effect, making mental or behavioral health a valid reason for an excused absence for all students in Utah.
Kentucky: At the end of April 2022 Governor Beshear signed House Bill 44 which would allow students to take days off from school for reasons related to mental health. These would count as excused absences.
States Where Bills Have Been Proposed
New York: Bill S563 was proposed in 2019 to establish that absence from school for mental or behavioral health reasons is permissible, and requires the State Education Department to establish rules to implement these provisions. This bill has not yet been signed into law.
Maryland: Bill 461 was proposed in 2021 to establish that students can take one mental health day per quarter without needing a doctor’s note. This bill has not yet been signed into law.
Massachusetts: Bill H.3782 was proposed to allow two absences for mental or behavioral health reasons within a six-month period. This bill has not yet been signed into law.
Pennsylvania: Senate Bill 506 was proposed in the spring of 2021 and would grant Pennsylvania public school students up to two wellness days per semester, provided they have a note from their parent or guardian. This bill has not yet been signed into law.
States With No Laws Regarding Mental Health Days
There are currently 36 states with no legislation around whether or not students are allowed to take mental health days.
- North Carolina
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- District of Columbia
While states are increasingly allowing students to cite mental health as a valid excuse for missing school, we’re still at a stage where fewer than half have legislation around mental health days.
There’s still much work to be done, but compared to even just a couple of years ago there have been plenty of changes helping to advance the mission of destigmatizing mental health, and ultimately aid in supporting children and families who are struggling.
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